I can’t figure out why some photos get turned sideways. If you are on-line, you should just be able to click a picture to expand it. First photo is the lady in the alley near the hotel, then two of the Hanoi Hilton and the last of my day’s last Grab Bike driver.
18 August – Most mornings Hanoi is blanketed in haze, but today it was clear and sunny, for which I was grateful because I was going to be out most of the day, planning to use grab bikes (motorbike taxis) for transportation and not relishing the thought of such a ride in the rain. I planned to visit a couple of travel agencies to find one to book the trip I want to take to Angkor Wat the first weekend in SeptEmber. That Sunday in the Vietnamese National Day and there is no school that Monday. Two of the agencies looked from my guide book to be in the French Quarter, which I wanted to visit in any case. Many days when I leave the hotel there is an older woman in the small alley I have to walk to reach the main road. She is usually clearing detritus from the dirty alley with her bare hands and moves aside to let me pass. She always greets me with a smile and a nod. This morning the alley was choked with the items she had gathered and she tried to let me pass, but I decided to walk around a short block so she did not have to move. With gestures I asked her permission to take her photo and she nodded her agreement. Then I caught a Grab Bike. I gave the driver the address of my destination and he asked a fee of 50VNDong, about $2.50. I handed him a 100 VND bill and he tried to short change me by handing back 40. I insistently gestured that he owed me another ten and he finally relented, handing over the balance. He drove the same route I had walked two weeks ago and I marveled to see how far I had actually walked. I wondered if he were regretting not having asked more, because he stopped part way in the wrong street at the wrong address and asked me to get off the bike. I refused, and showed him again the address of my destination. He had to ask directions from a nearby officer, then drove another mile or two, where he stopped again and asked me to get off. The road ahead had been blocked so I had no choice. I stepped into the nearby Singapore Airlines office to ask directions and found the driver could simply have turned at the corner and he would have ended up where I had to walk. But, I needed the exercise.
I was surprised to find that I was at the lake in the Old Quarter where another teacher and I had been last Saturday and not in the French Quarter at all. I asked directions again and walked about a mile till I came to the VN Visitor Center, allegedly a good source of maps and tours. As a visitor center it left much to be desired. I asked for and was given a small Hanoi map showing just a portion of the city, and I was told that the center does not plan tours except for air travel. So, I asked directions to the second agency I wanted to visit, which was half way around the lake. Part way there I decided to skip that and go on to the highly-recommended Buffalo Travel Agency – which decision took me the rest of the way around the lake, the same circuit I had made the previous weekwith mynteacher friend. At the end of this route I came to the small theater with a performance of Lotus Water Puppets, whatever they are. But I was curious about them and thought I would try to see the show. Last week my friend and I had strolled all the way around the lake but arrived at the little theater too late for the last puppet performance, and today the first one was not until 1730. It was only about 1100. It had begun to rain so I pulled out my ever-present umbrella and continued down Ba Trieu street looking for number 70/72. Several blocks along I found #68 to be an apparently abandoned building and #74 was a parking garage. There was no building with the #s 70/72 on it but a bank where those numbers should have been. I continued walking until I was sure I had passed the right address so I U-turned and walked back … still no obvious right place. With the rain the humidity had climbed. I decided to go into the bank, which was air conditioned, and I lucked out. Reading the tenant board I discovered Buffalo Travel was on the 9th floor. Right across from the elevators was a clean restroom, which I had been thinking I might soon need. Up to floor 9 and with even more luck I found the travel office open, if sparsely staffed on a Saturday afternoon. A young woman speaking passable English confirmed that the agency can arrange the Angkor Wat trip I want, and told me the booking agents would not be back in until Monday. She asked if I could come back then and after an exchange of information she gave me the booking agent’s name and Whatsapp number, taking mine in exchange, and promising I would hear from Ms. Thuy in a few days. (Whatsapp in an application through which one can send msgs and make free calls anywhere in the world if it is installed on mutual I-phones. I was told before I left home that is a universal means of communication throughout Asia and I had installed it on my new phone.) When I left, the young woman escorted me to the first floor door to be sure it wasn’t locked. Kudos for her customer service.
Consulting my map I saw that the Hanoi Hilton prison was only a few blocks away so I walked to it, able to put my umbrella away as the rain had stopped. For some reason I had believed the prison was somewhere in the middle of a jungle, but there it was, right in the city. After that I decided to visit the John McCain memorial and caught another grab bike. I had not known that when McCain bailed out of his plane he had landed in a large lake in the northwestern part of Hanoi. The memorial is at the side of that lake. The grab bike driver asked 30 VND, about $1.50, and we were off. Unfortunately, my guide book had the memorial mislocated – on the wrong side of the street with a barrier in the middle – and we could not find it. So I asked the driver to take me back to the hotel, and en route, after a U-turn, we passed the memorial. I would still like to see it, and would willingly venture to pay another 60 VND for the return trip. That ca. $3.00 is what the driver charged me to go back to the hotel. And I was after all not able to escape a grab bike ride in the rain, which had started up again. I noticed that among the thin plastic rain covers motorbike riders wear there was one model with a hood fore and aft so a pillion rider coild share the same cover. But what the heck, the ride in the rain was only water and it wasn’t raining very hard.